East Texas is the place to be for the best Class 4A Division I football in Texas on a weekly basis. Most of it will be played east of Tyler.

Athens and Van are outliers in District 8-4A Division I, but they fit the mold as teams that can take a serious look at a deep run in the playoffs. The two teams, and the district as a whole, will play in Region II, a seemingly wide open path to the state semifinals.

Liberty-Eylau and Pittsburg could be problems in the neighboring district. A traditional power such as Kennedale, Argyle or Dallas Carter will probably be waiting a few rounds deep.

In the meantime, a top two finish in District 8-4A Division I is a nice starting place.

Do Athens and Van have what it takes to put themselves in the best position for a considerable run?

District 8-4A Division I Preview

Van defensive end Brice Borgeson. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)
 PLAYMAKERS
  • Brice Borgeson, DE, Sr., Van
  • Jonathan Dunson, LB, Sr. Kaufman
  • Jackson Fritz, QB/DB, Sr., Kaufman
  • Logan Fuller, RB/LB, Jr. Athens
  • Travon Fuller, WR/DB, Jr., Athens
  • Jah Golden, QB/WR, Sr., Wills Point
  • Zane Koskelin, LB, Jr., Mabank
  • Peter Maddox, QB, Sr., Van
  • Michael Prox, WR/DB, Jr., Kaufman
  • Jacob Rowland, OL/DL, Sr., Wills Point
  • Matt Savis, RB, Sr., Van
  • Isaac Saldago, LB, Sr., Crandall
  • Wyatt Santos, OL, Sr., Van
  • Timothy Tanner, LB, Sr., Athens
  • Tyler Trussell, DE, Sr., Athens
  • Stephen Tucker III, LB, Sr., Mabank

 

TOP GAMES
  • Oct. 10 -- Athens at Van
  • Oct. 24 -- Kaufman at Athens
  • Nov. 7 -- Kaufman at Van

 

1. Athens Hornets

Logan Fuller was in a class of his own last season with more than 1,700 rushing yards as just a sophomore. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Paul Essary

2013 finish: 10-1 (3A D-I regional semifinalist)

Returning starters: 6 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • ATH Travon Fulller, Jr., 6-0, 160 (53 tackles, 7 INTs, 22 blocked kicks; Texas A&M commit)
  • RB/LB Logan Fuller, Jr., 5-8, 210 (1,727 yards, 27 rushing TDs)
  • LB Timothy Tanner, Sr., 6-1, 180 (62 tackles, 3 sacks)
  • DL Tyler Trussell, Sr. (69 tackles, 1 sack)
  • DL/TE Chris Prox, Sr. (68 tackles, 3 sacks)
  • OL Raul Campa, Sr., 6-2, 270

 

Offense: Athens will provide a unique look to opponents in the district. In more ways than one. The Hornets line up in power run formations and have experienced great success in doing so. Junior running back Logan Fuller gashed opponents for 1,727 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns last season. As a sophomore. Fuller's yardage was 11th-best in the East Texas region and, by far, the best in his 2016 graduating class.

Athens' Chad Head is expected to have a productive year as the Hornets' quarterback. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

The pounding doesn't stop there. Travon Fuller, an early Texas A&M verbal commitment in the Class of 2016, can do it all. Offensively, Travon Fuller will line up as a receiver and should be able to catch defenses off guard with their lean toward defending the run. Travon Fuller is one of the faster players in the region. He might even line up at quarterback. It's the easiest way to get the ball into his hands.

Head coach Paul Essary's team has been gifted with a solid offensive line. Raul Campa is 6-2 and 270 pounds. The rest of the line weighs in about the same. Athens has six returning starters on this side of the ball, so the team should be near peak performance by the time it enters district play.

Athens defensive end Timothy Tanner. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: You'll find Travon Fuller here, too. He had seven interceptions in 11 games last season, the best number by an East Texas sophomore and tied for third-best overall within the region. The Hornets' secondary obviously has an edge, but its front seven also stands out among a unit returning eight starters.

Defensive linemen Tyler Trussell and Chris Prox both were just shy of 70 tackles in 2013, and the duo combined for four sacks. There's help in the second level from linebacker Timothy Tanner. Tanner recorded 62 tackles and three sacks.

2014 outlook: Athens definitely has an advantage over the rest of the district in the top-end talent department, but Van is right there with the Hornets. The meeting between the two teams in Van on Oct. 10 is the single biggest game on the league's slate. Either way, Athens looks like it's in prime position for a playoff run. Region II in Class 4A Division I isn't overly daunting. Avoiding Liberty-Eylau and Pittsburg in the first round certainly would be nice though. This squad should be able to accomplish that if it can get out of the district undefeated or with one loss.

2. Van Vandals

Van offensive tackle Wyatt Santos. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Jared Moffatt

2013 finish: 4-7 (3A D-I bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 9 offensive, 9 defensive

Players to watch

  • DE Brice Borgeson, Sr., 6-3, 225 (116 tackles, 18 TFL, 4 sacks)
  • RB Matt Savis, Sr., 5-10, 190 (1,901 yards, 20 TDs)
  • OL Wyatt Santos, Sr., 6-2, 318 (offensive lineman MVP at ETSN.fm Football Recruiting Combine)
  • QB Peter Maddox, Sr., 6-0, 180 (1,844 passing yards, 16 passing TDs)
  • Hunter Redmond, Sr., 6-1, 152 (145 tackles, 15 TFL, 5 sacks)
  • IR Luke McGowan, Sr., 5-19, 176
  • WR Andrew Platter, Sr., 6-1, 180
  • RB Alphonso Thomas, Jr. 5-11, 195

 

Offense: The Vandals will attack opponents with a sophisticated spread game. They have the pieces to do serious damage, especially against the lower-end of the district. Running back Matt Savis doesn't need an introduction. He has more than 3,000 rushing yards in two varsity seasons. Could his senior year be the best one yet? Add Alphonso Thomas to the mix and the running game has a new one-two punch.

Van running back Matt Savis has more than 3,000 rushing yards in two varsity seasons. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

The sky is the limit with a developed offensive line. The position group features four of the unit's nine returning starters. The big guys will be headlined by Wyatt Santos, a 6-2, 318 pounder who won back-to-back Offensive Line MVP honors at the first two ETSN.fm Football Recruiting Combine's at the APEC training facility in Tyler. Santos will likely walk away from his career at Van after the season with at least one college football opportunity.

The offense can rely on its mix of receivers under any circumstance. Wideout Andrew Platter's return from an injury is viewed as a big deal. At 6-1 and 180 pounds, he'll be an easier target to find along the sidelines. Layton Myers will work the opposite sideline and is very competitive in jump ball situations. Inside receiver Luke McGowan, a senior, is the Vandals' best possession man. Quarterback Peter Maddox will be running the aerial show after a 1,900-yard, 20 touchdown junior season.

Linebacker Hunter Redmond led Van in tackles last season with 145. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Head coach Jared Moffatt is very proud of his front seven. Defensive end Brice Borgeson, a 6-2, 230-pounder, has offers from Northwestern State and Sam Houston State. He recorded 116 tackles in his first season with the Vandals in 2013, his junior year. He had 18 tackles for loss and four sacks along the way.

Linebacker Hunter Redmond serves as the middle linebacker and is praised for being a warrior. He's listed as 6-1 and 152 pounds, but he led the team in tackles last season with 145.

Van has nine returning starters on the defensive side of the ball. The unit should be fine out of the gate.

2014 outlook: Realignment was kind for the Vandals. A handful of the best Class 4A Division I teams reside in the adjacent district, but those teams will play playoff games in the Region III bracket. Van and Athens will not have to face the likes of Carthage, Chapel Hill, Jasper or Kilgore unless one of the two programs reaches the state championship game.

Van, specifically, probably has the best top-to-bottom team in the district. Can it stop Athens on Oct. 10? Games against Palestine and Lindale from Class 5A are the team's best chances at sharpening up. Like Athens, if the Vandals can grab the top district spot, they should be able to perform well in the early rounds of the playoffs against weaker teams.

3. Kaufman Lions

Coach: Craig Barker

2013 finish: 8-4 (3A D-1 area finalist)

Returning starters: 3 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Jonathan Dunson, Sr., 5-10, 200 (99 tackles)
  • QB/DB Jackson Fritz, Sr. 6-0, 193
  • WR/DB Michael Prox, 5-6, 160 (617 receiving yards, 5 TDs)
  • RB/LB Jacob Holley, Sr. 5-8, 190 (387 rushing yards, 5 TDs)

 

2014 outlook: Quarterback Jackson Fritz and Kaufman in general looked excellent at the state 7-on-7 tournament in July. There's a lot to be excited about after an 8-4 season with a trip to the area round of the playoffs, but the offense is going to have to step up for the real deal in pads. There will be nine new faces on that side of the ball. Immediate depth also is questionable. Kaufman lost 21 lettermen to 12 players returning.

 

4. Crandall Pirates

Coach: Joe Dale Cary

2013 finish: 5-6 (3A D-I area finalist)

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Isaac Salgado, Sr. (78 tackles)
  • RB Austin Gilcrease, Sr., 5-10, 170 (second-team all-district)
  • OL Daniel Brown, Sr., 5-10, 280

 

2014 outlook: The Pirates are a team that could go many directions after a fairly successful 2013 season. Crandall clinched a playoff berth with a 4-5 overall record and advanced to the area round of the Class 3A Division I bracket. This squad returns a good core with nine experienced starters and 18 returning lettermen to 26 lost. There's not a lot of known offensive athleticism though. Establishing effective players at the skill spots to supplement a good looking offensive line is the big key.

 

5. Wills Point Tigers

Coach: Greg Cranfill

2013 finish: 3-8 (3A D-I bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 3 offensive, 3 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL/DL Jacob Rowland, Sr., 6-5, 290
  • WR/QB Jah Golden, Sr., 6-0, 190 (two-way all-district selection)
  • OL/DL Zach Gray, 6-0, 230
  • WR Tolvia Ranger Wilcoxson, Sr., 6-3, 215
  • TE/DL Eric Johns, Sr.
  • RB /LB Marques Crouch, Jr.

 

2014 outlook: The Tigers squeaked into the first round of the playoffs with a 2-8 regular season record last year. Wills Point certainly is still in program raising mode. The team lost 15 lettermen and returns 15 players with experience, and there are six returning starters in total. Offense looks like it will be the strength with a nice offensive line anchored by Jacob Rowland and good receivers in Jah Golden and Tolvia Ranger Wilcoxson.

 

6. Mabank Panthers

Coach: Jared Wingfield

2013 finish: 2-8

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 9 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB/RB Zane Koskelin, Jr., 5-10, 180 (129 tackles, 8 TFLs)
  • LB Stephen Tucker III, Sr., 5-9, 165 (73 tackles, 7 TFLs, 4 sacks)
  • LB/RB Hayden Burnett, Sr., 5-11, 180 (71 tackles)
  • QB Cody Thompson, Sr., 6-3, 185

 

2014 outlook: The Panthers are loaded in experience on defense with nine returning starters, but the group will have to work on the 43.7 points it gave up per game last season. Van's nine returning offensive starters helped the Vandals out to a 55-10 win against Mabank a year ago. This season should be better for the defense with another year in the Panthers' training program, but Mabank certainly faces challenges from Athens, Van and Kaufman this season.